News flash: George W. Bush deserves credit for iPS cells?

One of the weapons in the war against stem cell therapies is the use of a seemingly simple word: “ethical”.

What does it mean to do ethical science in general and in particular what is ethical stem cell research?

Who decides?

According to the opponents of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, that line of research is unethical and even immoral and it is they who get to make those decisions for the rest of us.

In contrast, they pronounce, adult stem cell research and research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) are ethical.

The implication from their attempting to force other people to take on their definitions of “ethical” stem cell research is that scientists and members of the public who support ESC research are bad people, immoral people. Maybe even people who will go to hell.

But what makes adult stem cells and IPSC ethical, while ESC is supposedly not ethical? The reality is that it is the religious and narrow personal beliefs of the opponents of ESC research, who in fact are a minority in this country and around the world.

Today a piece at the Secondhand Smoke blog argued these assumptions heralding the claim that iPSC are virtually identical to ESC, but of course are the moral alternative.

The piece begins “Ethical stem cell research continues to advance.”

As opposed to the unethical kind and those doing that research that are on a rollercoaster to hell?

One thing I do agree with the author about is that human reproductive cloning should be outlawed in the U.S.

The thing I found most incredibly about this article is the assertion that really it is George W. Bush’s policies on human ES cells that catalyzed the development (at least in part) of alternatives to ESC…meaning iPS cells.

Wow, I had no idea that Jr. was the one who deserves the credit. When Yamanaka gets his Nobel Prize for iPS cells, should G.W. also get one too as part of the team?

My belief is that most moral stem cell research is that which can help the most people using adult stem cells, iPSC, and ESC because each will be powerful for different disease states.  Those who oppose ESC research as unethical are in effect telling millions of patients who might helped by such technology “sorry, you have the wrong disease, go ahead and suffer and die because current medical technology can’t help you!”

To me that sounds unethical.



  1. Funny, I wonder how far more advanced we would be medically and how many people might have been cured… if Bush was never President.

    Paralysed rugby star urges medics to seize on stem cell progress
    Published Date:
    13 September 2011
    A FORMER rugby player whose spine was snapped during a match is hoping that a US scientist at the forefront of stem cell research will convince Edinburgh medics to begin similar work which could one day enable him to walk again.
    David Millar, who lost the use of his legs after his accident 21 years ago, has raised thousands of pounds for the work of California-based Dr Hans Keirstead.

    Now the 44-year-old has brought Dr Keirstead to the Capital and tomorrow he will lecture doctors and scientists on the “holy grail” of medical advances.

    Dr Keirstead will be presenting his lecture at the President’s Suite, Murrayfield Rugby Stadium tomorrow at 4pm.

    • Yeah it was so horrible that President Bush was the first president ever to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.

      • Weren’t they tainted .?

        Study Says All Stem Cell Lines Tainted
        January 24, 2005|Karen Kaplan | Times Staff Writer

        ll human embryonic stem cell lines approved for use in federally funded research are contaminated with a foreign molecule from mice that may make them risky for use in medical therapies, according to a study released Sunday.

        Researchers at UC San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla report that if the stem cells are transplanted into people, the cells could provoke an immune system attack that would wipe out their ability to deliver cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

        The finding is a setback to the Bush administration’s controversial policy that provides federal funding only for research using embryonic stem cell lines that were created before August 2001. Evidence that all such lines are contaminated supports long-standing concerns among researchers that the lines eligible for federal money are insufficient to propel research forward.

    • There are many disease state for which stem cell scientists, based on research not some secret pro-ESC agenda, believe that adult stem cell therapies hold less promise and ESC hold greater promise due to the inherently greater potency of such cells. One general area to cite as an example is neurological disorders, where the adult population of stem cells is very small and limited in its healing capacity. ESC are very powerful in their ability to be differentiated in progenitor cells of the brain and the nervous system more generally.

  2. Oh, and I think it’s the very nature of embryo destruction that people oppose. While people’s religious beliefs may support that opposition, it is not a matter of religious faith per se as to what embryo destruction is. Whether or not an embryo is an early stage of development of a human being does not depend on religious beliefs, but on human biology. If we say we cannot know what the embryo is because of the lack of biological proof either way, one might refer to religious beliefs–or lack thereof–for guidance. Do not both sides wish to force their religious or non-religious views on the other? That “we” as a society must adopt one view or the other? We cannot permit ESCR unless we as a society adopt the view that it is permissible. I am really just wondering if it is a fair characterization of the ESCR debate that it boils down only to some sort of religious fervor, and that only the part of the opposition.

  3. “But what makes adult stem cells and IPSC ethical, while ESC is supposedly not ethical? The reality is that it is the religious and narrow personal beliefs of the opponents of ESC research, who in fact are a minority in this country and around the world.”

    It’s a cold, hard, secular, scientific fact that a new human being is created at the moment of fertilization. Many agnostics and atheists acknowledge this. What makes ESCR unethical, then, is that it directly involves the destruction of human beings. We’re in for a lot of trouble if you believe that destroying human beings for medical research is unethical ONLY according to religious beliefs.

    Rich: “Funny, I wonder how far more advanced we would be medically and how many people might have been cured… if Bush was never President.”

    Zero. And, again, Bush’s policies were rooted in science and ethics, not religion.

    • Actually, it is not a scientific fact that a human being is created by fertilization. When a human being is created is something that scientists do not agree upon and for which there is no definitive data. In contrast, a fact is that fertilization creates a human 1 cell embryo. Is that the same as a human being? I personally do not think so, but I know that others disagree. This issue of when life begins is not one that I believe can be scientifically or medically proven. Hence, it falls into the area of personal belief–not facts, not data.

      • The inability to prove “scientifically” that human life begins at fertilization, however, does not necessarily legitimize embryo destruction. Human life begins at some point. This is not doubted. Lack of proof that fertilization is or is not the beginning of human life does not in any way mean that it isn’t or that some other time is. A thing might be unprovable but true nonetheless.

        Personal belief one way or the other cannot change the reality. The fact is, and this is non-controversial, fertilization *might* indeed be the beginning of a human being. Without proof otherwise, ESCR *might* indeed kill human beings. If it does, no personal belief otherwise can change it.

        The question is, what is the ethical import of the element of doubt? Since a life possibly hangs in the balance, and ESC researchers wish to engage in the activity that would threaten that life, the burden of dispelling the doubt falls to them. Example: A hunter is out in the woods and sees something moving in the bushes and goes to shoot it, and his friend says, “Wait, I think it’s person.” Ethically, is the burden of proof on the friend or on the hunter? May the hunter shoot without knowing for sure, especially given his friend’s concern? In light of the doubt, he should not shoot. The benefit of the doubt should likewise fall to the embryo.

        • I can see your point of view and respect it, but I think your analogy is not valid and your reasoning is too broad.

          Almost anything “might” be true because it is very difficult to conclusively prove that something is impossible, whereas it is easier to prove something is possible.

          In terms of your hunter analogy, to me it is not helpful in this case because we already know for sure that every year hunters accidentally shoot and kill fellow human beings out in the woods, and we already know that human beings are walking around in the woods along with animals.

          In contrast, we have no information/data of any kind on what the odds are that a 1 cell embryo is a human being.

          Further, in contrast to some hypothetical possibility that the few day old embryo from which ESC are derived might be a human being, it is 100% true that the millions of entities out there on Earth that could possibly be helped by ESC research are living, breathing, thinking human beings who cannot be helped by current medicine. No doubt there about them being people and they desperately need our help. I believe that no matter how awesome adult stem cells are generally (which I believe they are), they won’t work for many diseases. We don’t know for sure which diseases ESC will be best for and for some I’m sure they won’t work, but the vast majority of us stem cell scientists believe in exploring the promise in ESC. That’s another fact.

      • “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote). … The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” (Carlson, Bruce M., Patten’s Foundations of Embryology, 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p.3.)

        “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.”
        (O’Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, p. 8)

        “The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”  (Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3)

  4. @bmmg39 read this..
    For those not familiar with the issues heres a good interview.
    QUESTION: Do you have pet peeves regarding how the public perceives stem cell research?

    ANSWER: I have a few.

    The first is the myth that human embryonic stem cells come from aborted fetuses. This is nonsense. It’s just not true. These stem cells come from frozen blastocysts (a very early embryo consisting of 150-300 cells) not used in in-vitro fertilization procedures. These cells are going to be discarded, no matter what. End of story. There’s no abortion involved.

    Second, people sometimes think stem cell research is just one thing. In fact, the research covers lots of different kinds of stem cells with different properties related to different diseases. No one kind of stem cell can substitute for another. What makes ESCs so special is they can make many kinds of stem cells that we can’t otherwise get in reasonable qualities.

    Third, there’s the oft-repeated myth that adult stem cells can do everything. This is completely undocumented and misleading. People have to remember that a collection of press releases doesn’t establish a fact. Just because one or two scientists think something may be true doesn’t necessarily define it as an independently reproducible, consistent, useful finding that forms a correct foundation.

    Fourth and most dangerous are the pronouncements by some people that adult stem cells can cure any disease. This has resulted in a proliferation of clinics across the border and around the world that will, for a price, offer unproven therapies. People go to them for help without enough information necessarily to know what they’re getting. These clinics are unregulated. There’s no accountability to make sure they tell the truth. The treatments are so hyped that people are putting their lives at risk. We’re seeing cases of people who have gone to these clinics and come back with real damage.

    • Rich, be careful whom you’re addressing, here. I am not new to this issue, and have, in fact, been discussing/debating it since the spring of 2001. You’re barking up the wrong tree, sir, if you’re attempting to “teach” here.

      • seems to me you’re pushing your own agenda or ideology. You want to save lives?…try protesting war. If you or a loved one is affected by disease and can be cured in the future by advancements in hesc research and/or therapies by all means decline treatment.
        As for your teaching comment…
        “It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.”~ Claude Bernard, one of the greatest of all men of science.

        • You need to heed Claude’s advice, Rich, especially if you think the “ideology” of opposing ESCR is unlike the “ideology” of protesting war. Both opponents of war and opponents of ESCR are looking to prevent the deaths of real, actual human beings.

          You need to heed Claude’s advice if you’re one of those ESCR proponents who misunderstands the reason(s) to oppose ESCR. (Hint: it isn’t an opposition to science and it isn’t religious dogma.)

  5. Admin, you can pretend, if you like, that the matter of fertilization being the creation of a new organism is mere opinion, but science textbooks do not deal in opinion, and they are rather clear on the issue. The fact remains that no new, third “element” or “component” is added to the embryo after fertilization, to turn a “non-human-being” into a human being.

    Furthermore, even if you were to consider the human zygote (or embryo or fetus) an entity that MIGHT be a human being, are you then comfortable with destroying it/her/him?

    • Textbooks are simply the authors’ opinions about what they believe to be the facts. Just as you don’t believe everything you read on this blog, you shouldn’t believe implicitly everything in a textbook.

      We already dealt with the “might” be a human being issue above in earlier comments.

        • Cells and embryos are infinitely more complex than an element such as cesium.
          As to the analogy of measuring temperature, have you invented a “life-o-meter” that can measure units of being a living human being?

          • My point is that science textbooks are known for explaining how things work and not really for conjecturing.

            As for your question, look to 12:10 p.m..

            I do believe you are sincere in your beliefs and more courteous than many who are on your “side.”

      • Dr. Knoepfler, thank you for engaging this discussion and in a dignified manner. However, it would seem that your statement, “we have no information/data of any kind on what the odds are that a 1 cell embryo is a human being,” seems to be false.

        You surely know what I’m about to say, but I cannot agree that what follow are mere opinions or non-facts or inconsequential. For instance, we know that the 1-cell human zygote is the union of a human sperm and a human ovum. Indeed the human origin is what makes ESCR attractive for therapies. Is this really a non-fact?

        Also not a non-fact is that the zygote is alive in some sense of the word, or else the cells would be worthless for research and therapy.

        These two facts together support the empirical observation that the continuity of biological life of a known human being includes some sort of biological beginning that can only be fertilization. Your own research supports this fact, for if embryonic cells did not represent the very beginning of a trajectory of integrated, biological, organism-related – and human – development, they would be worthless to your research.

        These statements appear to be facts and not mere beliefs or opinions. Nor are they unimportant.

        Opinion comes in regarding the “meaning” of these facts and how well they add up to proof or probability that a human zygote (or embryo) is a human being. The probability of the answer being Yes would seem pretty darn high in light of the facts.

        Also, I respect your desire to help people who are suffering and dying. However, it would be false to portray ESCR as the “only” way of helping them. For instance, with advances in robotics and computer-mind interfaces, could not some technology be devised one day to reconnect brain impulses to limbs in people with spinal cord injuries? Are other stem cell sources *completely* useless, or just more difficult to work with in such patients?

        A person’s suffering does not thereby entitle him to every means of relief. Therefore it is not fair to imply that the opposition to ESCR somehow forces or causes such people to suffer and die without hope. If the embryo is a human being, then this analogy holds: A person needing a heart transplant does not have the right to take it from a anyone else, not even a convict on death row. The heart patient needs to go with more difficult means of getting a suitable donor heart, and society that respects even the rights of convicts is not forcing him to suffer and die.

        Again, thanks for your attention.

  6. There are some interesting points in this thread. Without a doubt, those who claim a single cell is a person are forcing their religious belief on others. There are other religions, including some that are Christian that do not believe and human embryo is a person until later in the development process. I was told by an Orthodox Jew that they held that a developing fetus was a person only after 40 days gestation. I was also told that Islam believed it was 4 months. Interestingly this correlates with formation of the brain stem.

    The fertilized egg is human and has human DNA. However, it has only a small probability of implanting, developing fully and coming to term. To consider a fertilized egg equivalent to a crying baby is hardly credible.

    Finally, the argument is completely backward with black becoming white when discussing stem cell research because the stem cell lines are derived from in vitro fertilized blastocysts that will be discarded as medical waste. In fact, the stem cell researchers are SAVING the embryos. And the goal is to keep them ALIVE. Therefore, those that are against stem cell research actually are for killing those embryos.

Comments are closed.